Sarah Grabner is an alum who only recently has moved on from her time in Athens. She was a member of the Kennedy team for many years and helped in some of the major projects that helped get the museum to where it is today. Now she works at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts. Sarah is a great example of how years of hard work can get you into a career you love!
First, please introduce yourself and give us some background information on who you are and what you do.
My name is Sarah Grabner and I am an Assistant Registrar at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock, Arkansas. I grew up in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania and attended Ohio University for the first time in 2009. I received my BA in Art History with a minor in Philosophy in 2014. Then, I took some time off school, and eventually decided to return to complete the Museum Studies Certificate. After completing the certificate, I decided to return to Ohio University to complete my master’s degree in Art History and received my MA in 2018. As I finished my master’s degree, I decided to continue my education by enrolling in Kent State University’s Library and Information Science master’s program (MLIS). After the completion of this second master’s degree, I started my application process, right before COVID-19 hit. I started my current job at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts on July 1, 2020. It was definitely a strange experience applying and interviewing for jobs during the beginning of the pandemic.
When did you work at the Kennedy and what did you do during your time here? What was your area of study at the university and when did you graduate?
I worked at the Kennedy after I completed my bachelor’s degree until I left Athens at the end of the Spring of 2020. I primarily worked with Jeff Carr and helped with registrar and preparator duties. This involved anything from install/deinstall of exhibitions to organization of object files. I also worked extensively with the Native American textiles, especially the weavings. I spent a lot of time with other volunteers sewing Velcro onto the weavings for display purposes and inspecting the weavings as part of monitoring pest management. In addition to working at the Kennedy, I also worked an internship at the Southeast Ohio History Center where I helped with accessioning new objects and conducting a full collection inventory.
What experiences have you had with the Kennedy Museum of Art? Do you have any favorite memories from your time at the museum?
I absolutely loved working with Jeff Carr, without the experience he taught me, I don’t think I would have been nearly as prepared for my current position. Also, through working with Jeff, I learned about what a registrar does in a museum, which turns out to be my dream job. I would not have learned about all of the collections-based work at museums without working with Jeff, so my position at the Kennedy Museum of Art truly inspired my career path. Additionally, working at the Kennedy allowed for me to meet other like-minded aspiring museum professionals, such as my good friend, Rachel Harper. One of my favorite memories is being part of the collection move into the new renovated collection spaces. I also will never forget being part of the design and installation process for the exhibition, Pattern and Disruption: Diné Lifeways and Embedded Mathematics. It was amazing to work with a variety of people who all had a wide range of specialties (from math to art), and to collaborate with Sally and Henry Fowler. It was incredible to hear Sally Fowler and her son, Henry, discuss the Navajo weavings that were chosen for the exhibition.
How would you describe your creative process? Alternatively, how would you describe your professional activities.
I would describe my creative process as involving a lot of research and piles which eventually turn into organized lists, documents, and policies. My professional activities involve working with physical artworks, the digital database (TMS Collections), physical object files and our various digital storage. I also constantly collaborate with others at the institution, this includes my own department and others. In particular, I work very closely with the other registrars, curators, preparator, and exhibition designer.
Who/What inspires you?
I am inspired by traveling to new places to see art, and especially live art, such as contemporary performance art. Also, going to events with other art historians and museum professionals can be inspirational. I look forward to in-person conferences to be more accessible in the hopefully near future. Especially ARCS (Association of Registrars and Collection Specialists) and AAM (American Alliance of Museums).
Has living through a pandemic changed your career, creative processes or education?
Definitely. One positive element of the pandemic is that it forced a lot of organizations to make their programs virtual, so I’ve had opportunities to participate in webinars that I likely would not have been able to if it was only offered in person. When I first started my job in Arkansas, I worked from home, which very quickly forced me to set boundaries between my work and personal time since these spaces were overlapping in my apartment. Even now that I’m back in the office, I continue to focus on keeping my work at work. This has really helped me create a health work/life balance.
In your experience what roles do museums play in their communities? How do you think the community benefits from the museum?
In my experience museums play multiple roles in their communities. They can function as meeting spots, places to recharge, social spaces, educational areas, and much more. The community benefits from museums (no matter the type) because the museum supplies the community both with information about both the local area and internationally. Museums serve a wide range of audience members, so often there can be activities for just about anyone if you look. Also, if it seems like your local museum never has anything that interests you, if you reach out to them, they often take this feedback very seriously because they want to benefit their local communities.
How have your experiences of working either with one or multiple academic museums helped you give back to your community?
It has helped me stay informed about events happening in the community. Also, by attending or helping organize events, I have been introduced to various community leaders and organizations. Both the Kennedy and the Southeast Ohio History Center in Athens, Ohio were extremely helpful in keeping me informed of events around town and created many opportunities for networking. By being exposed to these events, it helped me become more informed about the needs of the community and what organizations are making efforts to better benefit the community.
What is your favorite object that is a part of a museum’s collection? Feel free to pick one from the Kennedy’s collection, a different collection, or both. Why?
One of my favorite objects in the Kennedy’s collection is “Living Room – Lawrence Sisler” by Lloyd Moore.
One of my favorite works from the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts Foundation Collection is a painting by Lisa Krannichfeld titled “New Skin.”
I think what draws me to both works are the bright colors that both works embrace. I also enjoy that both of these works capture glances into quotidian scenes.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Sure! If anyone ever finds themselves in Little Rock, Arkansas, come visit the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts and feel free to ask for me if you’d like to say hi. The Kennedy Museum of Art and the Southeast Ohio History Center were integral institutions in my professional career, and I will always recommend that anyone living in or around Athens, Ohio should take advantage of these amazing institutions. My Instagram is @maowzlouder and if anyone is looking to learn more about what museum registrar work entails or just to talk about art, shoot me a message, I’m happy to talk to you or share other resources with you.
To learn more about the Kennedy Art Museum please check out our website at https://www.ohio.edu/museum. Here you can check out our collection and current exhibitions. To check out other blog posts go to https://kennedymuseum.blog. Finally, feel free to follow us on Instagram at @KennedyMuseumArtEdu or our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/KennedyMuseumofArt .
Tristen Luken, Academic Programs Assistant